Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

27 Sep 2008

Cover-1: Four Plays to Paydirt

by Doug Farrar

Anyone who watched the amazing Oregon State-USC game, or caught the highlights later, knows that the star of the upset was freshman running back Jacquizz Rodgers, one of the brightest stars in the college game. Rodgers ran for 186 yards and two touchdowns on 37 carries against what was supposed to be an impenetrable USC defense. While Rodgers' size (5-foot-7, 193) would lead you to believe that he was getting primary production outside, he was able to hit holes and seams inside with incredible consistency, breaking productive gains over and over. His longest carry was 15 yards, so this wasn't a few long runs balanced out by pile-pushers. I asked Rob Rang, Senior Draft Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, for his take on the amazing freshman.

"His size is why Rodgers didn't receive more recruiting attention coming out of high school, despite the fact that he was named Texas' AP Player of the Year and left Lamar Consolidated High School with a state-record 136 career touchdowns," Rang said.

"Despite his lack of prototype height, 'Quizz' has a compact 193-pound frame that is well-suited to interior running. While most assume that bigger backs are better as interior runners, Rodgers' naturally low center of gravity and surprising leg drive helps him in short yardage situations. Able to hide behind his offensive linemen until he sees the hole, Rodgers has an explosive burst through the hole and to get into the open field. His best asset might be his vision, as Rodgers recognizes potential cutback lanes and can zip laterally to take advantage of aggressive defenses -- just as he did Thursday night against USC."

I expected to write a short analysis of Quizz's great game, detail some of the things he did, and talk about how USC found those things so tough to stop. But when I slowed everything down, I discovered that Rodgers had five co-stars, and none of them have received adequate credit. We'll fix that now by talking about the Oregon State offensive line in the four rushing plays of the Beavers' first touchdown drive.

The first play, from the USC 49 on first-and-10, saw the Beavers go with two receivers stacked left, with the back receiver (Rodgers' older brother, James) in motion left to right. USC brought five to the line. Rodgers got a gap off right tackle as the Oregon State line pushed the USC front line inside. This is less a zone slide and more a big push; these guys love to bunch opposing defenses in the middle and blow rushing lanes open outside. Very physical. James Rodgers sealed defensive end Everson Griffen off at the edge to provide the other side of the gap (Fig. 1), and Quizz scooted for 9 yards. The younger Rodgers has great vision, a (lack of) height advantage, and stellar inside speed, but it's just as much about the blocking.

Fig. 1 -- Motion to Block

After an incomplete pass, the Beavers faced third-and-1 at the USC 40. Here, they showed a different look, lining up in an I-formation with Quizz as the fullback. Center Alex Linnenkohl and right guard Greg Peat split defensive tackles Averell Spicer and Fili Moala. As linebacker Rey Maualuga came up to fill the gap, left guard Adam Speer took Spicer so that Linnenkohl could hit the second level and deal with Maualuga. At the same time, linebacker Kaluka Maiava came up to reinforce Maualuga's tackle attempt, but Linnenkohl shed Maualuga and chipped Maiava long enough for Rodgers to shoot left through the B-gap, vacated on the left by the left tackle, who walled Griffen off. A seven-yard gain, a first down, and a great performance by Linnenkohl.

Play No. 3 saw the Beavs line up single back with three receivers in a Zebra package. USC showed six at the line and eight in the box with a safety cheating up -- they knew the run was coming. Oregon State countered with slide protection to the right with James Rodgers motioning left to take the backside protection. Speer and left tackle Andy Levitre put a combo on defensive tackle Armond Armstead, and Speer then slipped out to block Maualuga. Rodgers spun off Maualuga to the left A-gap and cut back right for a 9-yard run.

The final running play took place at the USC 10-yard line on second-and-1. Oregon State lined up with three receivers and a little offset-stack left. Once again, James Rodgers came in motion, and once again he showed great willingness to block when he took Clay Matthews out of the play to the right. Quizz headed up the middle into a wall of USC defenders. Maiava filled the gap and brought Rodgers down after a gain of two. This left the Beavers with first-and-goal, and big brother James got the 8-yard touchdown on a receiver screen from trips left on the next play. After his own great blocking, James deserved his time in the spotlight.

The future looks bright for Jacquizz Rodgers, but it's not just because of his own talent. He's got five "big uglies" up front who work together with impressive precision and aggression, and a big brother who obviously has his back. In re-watching this game, I learned what I already knew -- when a great running game comes out of nowhere, it's best to start the investigation up front.

Posted by: Doug Farrar on 27 Sep 2008

1 comment, Last at 29 Sep 2008, 7:18pm by FourteenDays


by FourteenDays :: Mon, 09/29/2008 - 7:18pm

I enjoyed this article, but it looks like it got a little lost being posted in Extra Points...would there be a way to shift it onto the main page so it could get a little more attention?